All posts by Paul J. McAndrew, Jr.

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Medical Records Important for Workers’ Compensation Claim

Today’s post comes from guest author Todd Bennett, from Rehm, Bennett & Moore.

Medical records are necessary to substantiate an injured worker’s claim. At a minimum, injured workers and attorneys need the records from doctors and hospitals to show the diagnoses the workers have and the treatment that they have received. This includes records from physical therapy, MRI, pain management, orthopedic, etc.  

Every injured worker has a right to receive her or his medical records, and by law should be able to obtain those records promptly at a fair cost.

Federal law is clear: a patient has the “right to obtain from [their health care providers] a copy of [their medical records] in an electronic format,” 42 USC § 17935(e)(1), and that health care providers may bill “only the cost of … copying, including the cost of supplies for and labor of copying,” 45 CFR 164.524(c)(4)(i). This is all part of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH Act).

Rehm, Bennett & Moore employs the HITECH Act on behalf of injured clients to represent them in an efficient and cost-effective manner.

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Insult to Injury: ProPublica’s Series “Demolition of Workers’ Compensation” Focuses on Ongoing Workers’ Comp Woes Faced by Injured Workers Nationally

Today’s post comes from guest author Kristina Brown Thompson, from The Jernigan Law Firm.

Recent years have not been favorable to injured workers. States across the nation have enacted “reform” measures curbing injured workers benefits. Disability caps have been introduced, medical care restricted. In our last blog, we discussed Oklahoma’s Opt Out provisions as an example of the court system declaring that the legislature had legislated away too much of the injured worker’s protections. A couple years ago, Florida workers’ comp laws were declared unconstitutional by a judge. Although the decision was later reversed, the Florida judge (Judge Cueto) expressed concerns regarding the loss of an employee’s right to wage-loss benefits after an accident.  

 

NPR and ProPublica have been authoring an in-depth series on national workers’ compensation issues. ProPublica reviewed “reams of insurance industry data” and their findings confirmed what many workers’ compensation attorneys suspected for years:  insurance companies are increasingly controlling medical decisions, workers are unable to pick their own doctor in many states, and insurers are denying medical care based on internal “guidelines.”

 

As an example, ProPublica’s article talks about a case in California where the insurance company reopened an old case and denied medical care based on the opinion of a doctor who never even saw the patient. “Joel Ramirez, who was paralyzed in a warehouse accident, had his home health aide taken away, leaving him to sit in his own feces for up to eight hours.”

 

The article also brings up a good point about workers’ comp fraud. Repeatedly studies show “most of the money lost to fraud results not from workers making false claims but from employers misclassifying workers and underreporting payroll to get cheaper insurance rates.”

 

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NPR: Coffee Workers’ Concerns Brew Over Chemical’s Link To Lung Disease

Today’s post comes from guest author Kristen Wolf, from Causey Law Firm.

Heard on Morning Edition, April 15, 2016.

Step into Mike Moon’s Madison, Wis., coffee roasting plant and the aroma of beans — from Brazil to Laos — immediately washes over you.

Moon says he aims to run an efficient and safe plant — and that starts the minute beans spill out of the roaster. He points to a cooling can that is “designed to draw air from the room over the beans and exhausts that air out of the facility. So it is really grabbing a lot of all of the gases coming off the coffee,” he explains.

Why are these gases so worrisome? Because they contain a chemical called diacetyl — a natural byproduct of the coffee roasting process that, in large concentrations, can infiltrate the lungs and cause a severe form of lung disease.

You might remember hearing about diacetyl several years ago, when a synthetic version of the chemical, which is used to give a buttery flavor to certain snack foods, was implicated in causing severe lung problems among workers at a microwave popcorn facility.

Now it looks like that chemical could affect the coffee world as well. People at home grinding or brewing up a pot need not worry, but the chemical could pose a danger to people working in commercial coffee roasting plants.

Read the rest of the story here…

 

Photo credit: Nic Taylor Photography viaFoter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

 

Pregnant Workers Should Get Workers’ Compensation If They Have a Claim

Today’s post comes from guest author Todd Bennett and Jon Rehm, from Rehm, Bennett & Moore.

A new law went into effect during 2015 in Nebraska that requires employers of 15 or more employees to accommodate pregnant workers on the job. This is a significant change that affects working women by expanding workplace protections for those who become pregnant.

Nebraska’s protections for pregnant employees go beyond even the standards for pregnancy discrimination under federal law. The new law also protects women with post-childbirth medical conditions and women who choose to breastfeed or pump.

This law means that pregnant women in Nebraska will be able stay on the job longer and will have an easier time returning to work.

This accommodation includes obtaining “equipment for sitting, more frequent or longer breaks, periodic rest, assistance with manual labor, job restructuring, light-duty assignments, modified work schedules, temporary transfers to less strenuous or hazardous work, time off to recover from childbirth, or break time and appropriate facilities for breastfeeding or expressing breastmilk.” Nebraska Revised Statute 48-1102 (11)

These changes outlaw discrimination against a pregnant woman with respect to hiring, advancement, discharge, training and other terms, conditions and privileges of employment. These protections extend to a pregnant employee before, during and after a pregnancy.

Unfortunately, pregnancy doesn’t mean that women can avoid work injuries, especially in female-dominated fields like nursing and human-services support. Sometimes employers and/or insurers will attempt to use the excuse that since an employee is going to be out because of pregnancy that they do not have to pay temporary disability benefits to an injured worker who is suffering from a work injury.

But when an occupational or work injury and a non-occupational injury, combine to cause disability, employers still have to pay those disability benefits. Nebraska’s new law on pregnancy doesn’t change that fact. If anything, smart and ethical employers will attempt to accommodate injured pregnant employees in legitimate light-duty jobs so they do not have to pay disability benefits.

In addition, when a pregnant employee is injured on the job and is receiving workers’ compensation benefits and later is ordered by her physician not to perform certain work activities or is in need of bed rest due to the pregnancy, an injured and pregnant employee’s workers’ compensation benefits cannot be reduced or suspended on account of the pregnancy in both Nebraska and Iowa.

However, not all employers and workers’ compensation insurance carriers understand or follow the law. If you are injured and not receiving workers’ compensation benefits because your employer says that they could accommodate your job but for you being pregnant, you need to call a firm that handles both discrimination and workers’ compensation law. You should also call an employment lawyer if you are pregnant and being forced to take unpaid leave rather than having your job duties modified or changed. 

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Hoping That the Revolution in Medical Care Reaches Injured Workers

Today’s post comes from guest author Rod Rehm, from Rehm, Bennett & Moore.

Imagine a cross between a FitBit and a TENS Unit (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation) that can control, on demand, issues that hurt workers face: anxiety, pain, PTSD symptoms.

That combination might not be as far-off science fiction as a person would think.

Wearable medical devices are making remarkable advances, according to respected workers’ compensation commentator Robert Wilson.

“We are only scratching the surface of what may be possible,” he predicts. “Wearable devices that can dispense medication, provide biofeedback and can both monitor and adjust a patients vitals are very real possibilities. Devices such as these will improve quality of life with real time application and treatment, and that ‘improved experience’ will help our industry drive better results at an ultimately lower cost.”

A real-life example of these advancements is an app called myBivy, which was originally developed to help veterans with PTSD sleep better by disrupting the physical “symptoms that precede night terrors.” The app is being developed by a team that “Tyler Skluzacek, a student at Macalester College” in St. Paul, Minnesota, began when he was inspired to help his father, a veteran of the Iraq War. The app is in its testing phases now and is estimated to “officially launch between March and May” of this year. Since “7-8 percent of Americans will experience PTSD at some point in their lives” and “11-20 percent of post 9-11 veterans are estimated to have PTSD,” it’s pretty obvious how the app may help those who have developed PTSD through a work-related injury sleep better. I look forward to hearing more about this particular app for sure.

This app meets Wilson’s criteria of how wearables need to evolve to be the most helpful to those who can benefit the most from them.

“To be really effective and successful, the wearable revolution needs at least one more evolution,” Wilson wrote. “An evolution that takes this medium from that of casual observer to mobile clinician; from simple data collector to partner in health. That is when we will see real benefits and results from wearable technology in all health delivery systems.”

I am hopeful that the relentless cost-containment efforts of the “Workers’ Comp Industrial Complex’ will not inhibit these creative efforts, so injured workers and their loved ones will be able to benefit from these advances very soon.

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Nationwide Decrease and Attack on Worker’s Compensation Benefits

Bernie Sanders and nine other federal legislators sent a letter to the Dept. of Labor scrutinizing increasing attacks on workers’ rights.

Today’s post comes from guest author Charlie Domer, from The Domer Law Firm.

Recent news stories have begun to shed light on the ever-increasing attack on worker’s compensation benefits around the nation.   Further awareness has spurred legislators to action.  Click here for a recent letter from federal legislators to the Department of Labor Secretary to scrutinize what is happening to workers and worker’s rights in this country.
 
It does not appear any state is immune from these worker’s compensation “deform” proposals.  Rumblings in Wisconsin suggest proposed changes to our nationally-recognized model are coming.  We will keep Wisconsin workers and taxpayers informed as information occurs. 
 
We must always remember that as worker’s compensation benefits decrease and eligibility criteria become more difficult, the taxpayers are often left holding the bag.  Accidents unfortunately still happen.  Workers get hurt.  Medical treatment is needed.   If an employer or worker’s compensation insurance company avoids liability, those costs are shifted to the taxpayers through government-funded insurance (Medicaid/Medicare) and other social safety net mechanisms.   Legislators must be careful to not shift the cost of a work injury from the cost of doing business (employer) to the taxpayers.

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Exoskeletons and the Workplace

Today’s post comes from guest author Jon Rehm, from Rehm, Bennett & Moore.

Due to Japan’s rapidly aging demographics, they are using exoskeletons to make older workers more productive in heavy-labor jobs.

“’We expect that exoskeletons, or power-assist suits, will be widely used in people’s lives in 15 years,’ said Panasonic spokesperson Mio Yamanaka, who is based in Osaka, Japan, as quoted by Tech Review.”

“The suit, which weighs just over 13 pounds and attaches to the back, thighs, and feet, allows its wearer to carry an additional 33 pounds,” according to the Business Insider article. Industries that have tested the suit in Japan include warehouse handlers and forestry workers. Another suit in testing that’s larger “could help workers carry up to 220 pounds.”

I see some upsides and downsides to this trend:

Positives:

  1. This preserves manual-labor jobs. The human brain is still more sophisticated than a computer when it comes to having the skills to perform many tasks. Robotically enhanced humans might preserve human labor.
  2. It’s potentially easier to accommodate injured and disabled employees. There might be fewer workers’ compensation payments, but employers may find it harder to fire injured workers.  Not having an exoskeleton available for injured or disabled employees could be considered discrimination.
  3. Less discrimination against older workers would occur when physical limitations are decreased.

Negatives:

  1. Using an exoskeleton opens the potential of abuse by employers. The machines may push production workers to perform their duties even faster. Employees may still have injuries or maybe even develop new work-related injuries from using exoskeletons.
  2. Are exoskeletons really safe? Who is responsible if they cause injury?

In summary, if you or a loved one have questions about current workplace trends as they apply to injured workers, please contact an experienced workers’ compensation lawyer.

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Tile and Granite Company Fined – Silica Dust Exposure

Today’s post comes from guest author Kit Case, from Causey Law Firm.

Wall to Wall Tile & Stone of Vancouver, Wash. has been fined $261,000 for failing to protect workers from exposure to silica dust and other health hazards associated with stone slab grinding. 

The Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) cited the employer for multiple instances of “failure to abate” serious violations after a follow-up inspection found that the employer had not corrected violations that it was cited for in November 2014.

An L&I inspection found that employees were exposed to silica quartz dust at more than three (3.4) times the permissible limit during stone slab grinding operations. Over time, breathing in silica dust can cause silicosis (a disabling lung disease), as well as lung cancer, pulmonary tuberculosis and airway diseases.

The employer was cited for seven “failure to abate” serious violations. These are violations that the company had been previously cited for but had not corrected, including:

  • Failing to use feasible controls to reduce employee exposure to silica dust — $40,500.

  • Not developing a written respiratory protection program to protect employees from inhaling silica dust — $40,500.

  • Failing to provide fit testing for workers required to wear full-face respirators — $40,500.

  • Not providing effective training for employees who wear full-face respirators —$40,500.

  • Not providing noise and hearing protection training to affected employees — $22,500.

  • Not providing annual hearing tests for workers exposed to excess noise — $22,500.

  • Failing to develop, implement and maintain a written Chemical Hazard Communication Program for employees using a variety of chemicals — $40,500.

Wall to Wall Tile & Stone was also cited for two “failure to abate” general violations, each with a penalty of $2,700. These violations were for not providing medical evaluations for employees who wear full-face respirators, and for not creating a list of chemicals used in the workplace.

In addition, L&I cited the company for two serious violations that were not associated with the 2014 inspection. One of the citations was for not ensuring that employees who wear full-face respirators don’t have facial hair. Respirators may not seal properly on workers with beards or other facial hair. The company was also cited for not providing appropriate respirators for employees grinding stone slabs. Each violation has a penalty of $4,050.

Serious violations are cited for hazards where there’s a possibility of serious injury or death. General violations are the lowest-level citation, involving safety issues where there is no possibility of serious injury or death.

The employer has 15 days to appeal the citation. Penalty money paid as a result of a citation is placed in the workers’ compensation supplemental pension fund, helping workers and families of those who have died on the job.

For a copy of the citation, please contact L&I Public Affairs at 360-902-5413.

Photo credit: The Worlds of David Darling